Originally created 09/26/03

Van-plant funds could go to Peachcare



ATLANTA - If DaimlerChrysler won't be using a few million dollars from Georgia taxpayers to build a van plant near Savannah, Ga., some of the state's poorest children will use it.

On Thursday, Gov. Sonny Perdue proposed earmarking $18 million to bail out Peachcare for Kids, Georgia's struggling health-care program for children of working families.

Those funds are part of about $49 million in unspent cash the state had set aside this year in tax breaks and training programs associated with the plant. The giant automaker announced Tuesday that it will not build the Sprinter van plant, citing slow sales and excess inventory.

"We're going to turn that bad news into good news for our kids in Georgia," Mr. Perdue said at a news conference in his Capitol office.

Peachcare serves children in families whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid but who can't afford private health insurance. The program is facing a $17 million shortfall in state funds during the current fiscal year, which runs through June. Without the influx of cash proposed by the governor, as many as 40,000 children could be forced from the rolls, said Rep. Mickey Channell, D-Greensboro, a former chairman of the House budget subcommittee on Medicaid.

Democrats in charge of that subcommittee adopted a resolution last month recommending that Peachcare enrollment at least be maintained at its current level of 190,000 children.

Lobbyists on health-care issues praised Mr. Perdue's action.

"I think it's an excellent example of setting the right priorities for our state," said Linda Lowe, a consumer-health advocate. "It's good for the children. It's good for the future of the state."

Mr. Perdue said the rest of the money that had been set aside for the van plant will be put into the state's general fund.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 681-1701 or davemns@mindspring.com.